From toxic Japanese blowfish and Norwegian sheep’s head to Italian breakfast biscuits and Middle Eastern hummus, experts have created a new way of classifying how foods are marketed around the world.
‘Transcultural food marketing’ takes into account the origin and cultural appeal of foods, organising brands and cuisines into a range of categories such as ‘scary and strange’, ‘treat or threat’ or ‘routine simplicity’.
An international team of researchers analysed over 30 years of research insights to create a new understanding of how growers and producers, wholesalers and retailers, chefs and marketers engage with cultural diversity.
Transcultural food marketing creates a new understanding of how marketers curate these relationships to boost sales of their products. They can choose to emphasise products’ geographical ties or explore feelings of comfort or danger associated with the food.Pilar Rojas Gaviria, University of Birmingham
Publishing their findings in Journal of Business Research, researchers, from the University of Birmingham, Monash University, Australia, and Universidad del Desarrollo, Chile, pitch a range of foods on two related scales: ‘Territorialisation to Deterritorialisation’ and ‘Familiarity to Exploration’.
The former considers how strongly a food’s geographical origin influences its marketing – for example champagne or Kobe beef, whilst the latter factors familiarity, or lack of – for example curry or molecular gastronomy.
Co-author Pilar Rojas Gaviria, from the University of Birmingham, commented: “Food products’ relationship to place can combine ethnic, national, and global cultures to shape the consumer’s experience in very different ways.
“Transcultural food marketing creates a new understanding of how marketers curate these relationships to boost sales of their products. They can choose to emphasise products’ geographical ties or explore feelings of comfort or danger associated with the food.”
In deciding how to market a food’s origin, marketers face a dilemma – do they anchor a product to a specific place (eg. champagne) or do they draw on a wider cultural association to broaden its appeal (eg. Tiger beer).
When translating foods across cultures, marketers must balance familiarity, which could give a product broader public appeal (eg. McDonalds), with exploration, which could draw consumers through a sense of novelty and adventure (eg. Smalahove – salted, smoked and cooked sheep’s head).
The researchers used a range of global foods and cuisines, including Mulino Blanco biscuits, Starbucks Coffee, Inca Kola and Nikkei Cuisine, to illustrate the new framework.
Transcultural food marketing draws four categories within the spectrum of ‘Territorialisation to Deterritorialisation’:
- Anchored territorialisation: rooting food to place – the place of origin forms a vital connection with the character of the product, for example wine from Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyards around the Pope's residence in Avignon, France;
- Hybrid territorialisation: connecting cuisines - different culinary traditions are simultaneously recombined and honoured in a food product, for example Inca Kola as a Peruvian-US ‘mash-up’;
- Virtual territorialisation: neither here nor there - the need for a food product to carry familiar resonances without emptying it of cultural meaning, for example the British invented the cultural category of curry as a simplified icon of Indian food; and
- Aerial territorialisation: obscuring and imagining cultural baggage – unmooring a food product from a specific locale toward more abstract global consumer cultures, for example hummus, which can be ‘claimed’ by several Middle Eastern countries.
The framework draws a further four categories within ‘Familiarity to Exploration’:
- Everyday staples: routine simplicity - a safe, regular part of a consumer’s diet, for example Mulino Bianco constructing the mythology of the Italian family breakfast and pitching its products as part of this;
- Commodified cosmopolitanism: the extraordinary within the ordinary - a touch of the exotic without losing accessibility, for example hamburgers, pasta and coffee.
- Gourmet innovation: treat or threat - a novel and uncanny charm through a curated dalliance with strangeness, for example deep-fried moss or live ant dishes from chef René Redzepi at Noma’s; and
- Mystification: scary and strange – a mysterious and adventurous aura that is separate from mainstream food practices, for example Fugu blowfish which can only be prepared by specially licensed chefs because toxins within the fish's body can be lethal.